2012 Japan Film Festival Kicks Off This Weekend

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Nana Eikura and Masaki Okada star in "Life Back Then" (アントキノイノチ).

The Japan Film Festival Los Angeles 2012 will be screening some 20 films, including U.S. premieres, documentaries and dramas. All selections have been subtitled in English.

As part of the Arigato From Japan! project, much of the proceeds from the festival will be donated to Japan earthquake and tsunami relief efforts.

Films will be showing this Friday and Saturday, April 14-15, at the New Beverly Cinema, 7165 W. Beverly Blvd. in Hollywood. www.newbevcinema.com

On April 21, the festival continues at the Star Plex Cinema 5, 4626 Barranca Parkway  in Irvine. www.starplexcinemas.com

The event’s final day will be April 22 at the Yamaha Music Center, 4620 Barranca Parkway in Irvine.

Among the films in this year’s lineup are:

• “Life Back Then” (アントキノイノチ), directed by Takahisa Zeze. U.S. premiere

Kyohei Nagashima (Masaki Okada) is completely shut in and has closed his mind towards the world after a tragedy occurs during his high school years. With the support of his family, he starts working as a “cleaner” for people who have ended their lives alone. Every year in Japan, there are hundreds people who do not have close ties with their families and suddenly pass away by themselves at home.

April 13 at a screening and reception at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo; April 15 at 1 p.m. at New Beverly Cinema; April 21 at 5:30 p.m. at Starplex Cinema 5.

• “Chronicles From the Heartland: Fukushima 2011” (フクシマ2011), directed by Hidetaka Inazuka, narrated by Tatsuya Nakadai, music by Osamu Kitajima

The people in Iidate village and Minamisouma City, north of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, face pollution and radioactivity due to last year’s earthquake and tsunami. This film follows people holding on to their family and community ties while trying to rebuild their towns.

The director will appear at the April 14 screening at 1 p.m. at New Beverly Cinema. Also showing on April 22 at 4:15 p.m. at Yamaha Music Center.

• “Death of a Japanese Salesman” (エンディングノート), directed by Mami Sunada. L.A. premiere

A touching and funny documentary depicting the final days of a cancer-afflicted father and his family through the eyes of his daughter. Tomoaki Sunada was a typical sales representative, working more than 40 years for the same company. After retiring at age 67, he was diagnosed with final-stage cancer. In order to sum up his life and leave a message to his family, his last project was to make an “ending note” before his departure.

April 14 at 3 p.m. at New Beverly Cinema; April 21 at 1 p.m. at Starplex Cinema 5.

• “ViVA! Kappe” (ビバ!カッぺ), directed by Hisashi Ueda. International premiere

Mau Nishio plays Hanako Matsuzaka, an aspiring designer who has been living in Tokyo, but returns to her hometown of Mito when she’s unable to find a job she wants. She comes across an eccentric agriculturalist named Taro (Yuki Ito) who runs his family’s farm. Hanako meets many people involved in agriculture, eventually discovering what’s really important in life.

Main cast and producer will appear at the screenings on April 14 at 5 p.m. at New Beverly Cinema and April 22 at 6 p.m. at Yamaha Music Center.

• “Subprime Children” (サブプライム・チルドレン), directed by T.J. Yoshizaki. World premiere.

A feature drama based on the recent economic meltdown. It involves groups of people who played a part in the greedy society and now must face reality —  a very, very bad one. With Kenneth Hughes, Mary Takeyama, Tim Davis.

The director will appear at the April 14 screening at 7 p.m. at New Beverly Cinema.

• “Saki the Killer” (SAKI 鮮血のアーティスト), directed by Chisako Yokoyama

Painter Saki Matsuda moves from Japan to Southern California. She is happy with her Caucasian boyfriend and enjoys teaching art, despite the fact that her students are prison inmates. Her grandfather, Shin, shows up unexpectedly and disapproves of her lifestyle. Things get worse when a mysterious man in white named Kanekichi attacks Shin, and Shin confesses to Saki his involvement with the yakuza. With Sachiko Kokubu, Lance Masa, Hidetoshi Imura.

The director will appear at the April 14 screening at 9 p.m. at New Beverly Cinema.

• “My Wife” (死にゆく妻との旅路), directed by Yukinari Hanawa. U.S. premiere

In December 1999, in a rural town, a middle-aged man is arrested, accused of negligence as a guardian resulting in death. He once an a successful sewing factory, but after the collapse of the bubble economy, he carried 40 million yen in debt. When the man was about to leave to find a job, his wife insisted on not being left behind, so the couple left town with their last $5,000 dollars in hand. With Tomokazu Miura, Yuriko Ishida.

April 21 at 3 p.m. at Starplex Cinema 5.

• “Manhole Children” (マンホール・チルドレン), directed by Taro Takahashi. L.A. premiere

With the fall of the Soviet Union, Mongolia was forced to make the transition from a communist to capitalist economy. The rapid introduction of a free-market economy produced massive unemployment and plunged nearly half of the population into poverty. In the winter of 1998, while economic disorder was still at its height, thousands of children were living in manholes under the streets of Ulan Bator. The manholes provided access to a vast network of steam pipes used to heat homes. The filmmakers documented the plight of these children living in a no-man’s land of theft and violence.

April 22 at 12 p.m. at Yamaha Music Center.

“A Great Blessing” (天から見れば), directed by Fumiko Irie.

This documentary tells the inspiring story of painter Masanori Minami, who lost both arms in an accident at his parents’ lumber company when he was 8 years old. At a school for disabled children, he learned how to perform daily tasks with his mouth and feet. While in middle school, he became a student of nun and artist Junkyoni Ohishi (1888-1968), who taught him how to create traditional Japanese paintings by holding the brush in his mouth. Known for his paintings of animals and landscapes, Minami has won many awards and gives lectures at home and abroad.

April 22 at 2:15 p.m. at Yamaha Music Center.

Advance tickets are available for $10 at Kinokuniya and Asahiya Japanese bookstores. Tickets at the box office are $12.

For complete information and showtimes, visit www.jffla.org.

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